The Supreme Court sided with the video game industry today, declaring a victor in the six-year legal match between the industry and the California lawmakers who wanted to make it a crime for anyone in the state to sell extremely violent games to kids.With this decision, the Court establishes as precedent that video games should not be treated differently from other forms of media, despite their (usually) more interactive nature. This comes as a result of an opinion that represents a plurality of the court, authored by Justice Scalia. Justices Roberts and Alito argued in a separate, concurrent opinion that the restrictions laid out in the California law were unacceptably vague.
In a 7-2 ruling Justice Antonin Scalia said the law does not comport with the First Amendment. He was joined by Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts, who had seemed sympathetic to California's concerns last year. Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer, traditionally members of the court's right and left wings, respectively, joined in dissent.
I can't say I'm entirely displeased with this, despite the note of pain it causes for me to have to agree with anything Justice Scalia's authored. I do think it is worthwhile to have that down on paper that video games are not different from everything that has come before them in terms of protected speech, although as a gamer myself I suspect I am slightly biased on the issue. And, as it happens, I also agree that some of the restrictions in the California law were too vague to be legally defensible.
But, I also think that we should be thinking very carefully about the messages we're sending. Of course there is no clear line of cause and effect between violent imagery and actions in video games and actual violence in the real world, at least not one that's widely accepted. It's just as true that acts of violence in the real world do not take place in a void, absent all connections to the culture that surrounds them. And perhaps it is time, or even past time, to start taking a more serious look at any connections that might exist.
... Hmm, that comes out a little too vague for even my preferences. Here it is then:
I agree with this particular ruling of the Supreme Court. I think it sets a valuable First Amendment precedent to have, equating video games with the media that's come before. And I think that nothing, perhaps short of direct divine intervention, will stop regular people from condemning whatever they please, for whatever reasons they care to name... including the possible harm that a pervasive acceptance of violence could have on our culture.
And they are welcome to do so. Freedom of expression protects you from the government's excesses, but it does not protect you from me. It's long past time that that was part of our First Amendment discussions.